Certain Songs #484: Funkadelic – “Can You Get To That”

Funkadelic MaggotBrai Album: Maggot Brain
Year: 1971

An improbable mix of gospel, soul and folk-rock, and featuring a vocal round-robin that both Sly Stone and Kanye West spent their entire careers trying to recreate in ways both natural and artificial, “Can You Get To That” is a departure from the normal Funkadelic sound that stands as one of the greatest songs of the 1970s.

I first heard it in the mid-1980s on a Funkadelic compilation called Best of The Early Years, Vol 1 that I snagged from the Music Library at Fresno State.

I hadn’t really heard much, if any, P-Funk and figured that this compilation (which Robert Christgau had given a straight-up “A” in his 1970s Consumer Guide book) would be a good place to start.

And while it still took me awhile to fully grok what Funkadelic was up to, I was immediately blown away by “Can You Get To That,” which opened up with a weird, open beat, a deep acoustic guitar, and gorgeous harmonies singing some seriously profound shit:

I once had a life, or rather, life had me
I was one among many or at least I seemed to be
Well, I read an old quotation in a book just yesterday
Said “Gonna reap just what you sow
The debts you make you have to pay.”
Can you get to that?

I mean really: the only two things I believe in are karma and serendipity, and “Can You Get to That” is a pure karma song, through and through.

When you base your life on credit
And your loving days are done
Checks you signed with love and kisses
Later come back signed “insufficient funds”
Can y’all get to that

It also has a monster chorus, with somebody with an impossibly low baritone (Clinton himself?) singing that last verse and driving the chorus by continually asking “I wanna know” while everybody else is asking “can you get to that?”

The end result is a song that not only doesn’t sound like “normal” Funkadelic, but really doesn’t sound like any other song I’ve ever heard by anyone else, and quite possibly the greatest secular gospel song ever recorded.

“Can You Get To That”

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